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Taking Statins Before Heart Bypass Surgery Cuts Complication, Death Risks

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Statins are used all over the world mainly because of its cholesterol-lowering effects. In a new study, however, experts found that it can also cut complications if administered before a heart bypass surgery.

Researchers from the University of Florida and Cleveland Clinic Foundation have discovered that statins such as Zocor and Lipitor reduce an abnormal heart beat pattern known as atrial fibrillation by 58 percent after a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG). Mortality risk after heart surgery also dropped by 43 percent in patients who took statins prior to the operation.

"It appears that taking statins prior to CABG surgery can help protect patients against developing atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that is a common complication following heart surgery," said Dr. Islam Y. Elgendy from the University of Florida.

To come up with their findings, the researchers reviewed a total of 21 previous studies from Medline until July 2015.

The exact mechanism why statins show promise in preventive heart surgery is not clear. However, the authors think that the medicine's anti-inflammatory effect plays a big role.

Heart bypass surgery is an intricate procedure that involves using blood vessels from another part of the body to create a new pathway for blood. This operation is indicated for patients whose heart arteries have narrowed or have been blocked due to different causes.

The authors said that severe cardiac inflammation is a common outcome immediately after a heart bypass surgery. With this, they recommend taking statins perhaps two weeks before the scheduled operation to adequately reduce the risk of inflammation.

Although statins have been found to produce promising effects and that it is well-tolerated by patients, the researchers discovered that the drugs are being underused.

In one of the studies reviewed, the authors found that only about 37 percent of patients were taking statins prior to their operation. In majority of cases, patients are even told to stop taking the drugs before surgery.

"Previous research has shown that discontinuation of the medication at the time of surgery is common practice," said Dr. Amr F. Barakat, from Cleveland Clinic Foundation. With this, he added that their work calls for more actions to inform patients and surgeons about the positive effects of statins.

Some surgeons fear that statins may cause unwanted side effects such as muscle pain and/or damage, but Elgendy said that these effects are minimal and that it does not outweigh the benefits.

Ultimately, Elgendy recommends patients to take statins before and after surgery.

As for the appropriate dose and duration of administration, the authors said it requires further investigations. The authors also said that they need to perform more studies to see if the benefits of statins have a wider scope.

The study was published online in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery on Jan.12.

Photo: Leandro Ciuffo | Flickr

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